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Swiss Reject Easing of Citizenship Rules

One proposal would have automatically naturalized immigrants' grandchildren.

September 27, 2004|From Associated Press

GENEVA — Voters in Switzerland -- where one in five residents isn't a citizen -- rejected liberalizing tough rules on citizenship Sunday.

Nearly 57% of voters rejected a proposal to automatically give citizenship to the grandchildren of immigrants. About 52% rejected making children born in Switzerland -- or at least raised in the country from an early age -- quickly eligible.

"This is a sad day for Switzerland," said Claudio Micheloni, head of a migrants' integration association.

Opposition was centered among German-speaking Swiss, who account for two-thirds of the population and tend to be more conservative than the rest of the country.

About 20% of the 7.2 million people living in Switzerland are non-citizens -- most of them immigrants from Italy and the Balkans or their offspring.

Immigrants have to wait at least 12 years to apply for naturalization, and their Swiss-born children and even grandchildren do not qualify automatically. Many people decide not to seek naturalization to avoid complex procedures, which once included visits by inspectors who checked that applicants' homes conformed to Swiss standards of cleanliness.

Right-wing opponents claimed the proposed changes would undermine what it means to be Swiss. They faced widespread criticism for their referendum campaign, which featured Osama bin Laden's photo on a Swiss ID card and advertisements claiming Switzerland could be taken over by Muslims.

"We don't want Switzerland to be a doorway for all and sundry," said Maria Angela Guyot of the right-wing Swiss People's Party.

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